Awesome Moms in Literature

In honor of Mother’s Day (this Sunday!), let’s celebrate some of literature’s most terrifically awesome moms.

Marmee and Jo March
Little Women, Little Men & Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott
March by Geraldine Brooks
Marmee is the rock of Alcott’s Little Women, and her influence on her daughter Jo shines through when Jo herself becomes a mother. Jo remains delightfully Jo-like despite her new responsibilities, and is as rambunctious a mother as she was a daughter. Brooks’ Pulitzer Prize-winning March, which focuses on the absent Mr. March’s experiences in the Civil War, presents a different, but no less admirable view of Marmee in its chapters from her point of view: she rails on the idea that she is Mr. March’s possession, on the laws that make it so, on the stupidity of war, and on the pressures of being left to raise four girls.

Marilla Cuthbert and Anne
The Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery
These books feature another wonderful multi-generational pair of mothers. Marilla Cuthbert is the most unlikely mother ever, but despite her initial reluctance to adopt Anne, she learns how to love her surrogate daughter so fiercely, to give her good counsel, and to make a whole new life she never imagined. Like Marmee and Jo, Marilla’s influence becomes a great boon for Anne, who loses her own first baby just hours after its birth, in a storyline that’s one of the most moving treatments of motherhood and loss we’ve ever read. We likewise share Anne’s joy when she goes on to have six more children.

Lily Evans and Molly Weasley
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Lily Evans provides the great sacrifice that enables this series to exist: she gives her life so that her son, Harry Potter, may live (and become The Boy Who Lived). As Harry’s surrogate mother—and of course the mother to the seven Weasley children—it is however Mrs. Weasley who bears the brunt of getting her family, and the entire Order of the Phoenix, through the war. We cheered when she got her great, Ripley-like moment in The Deathly Hallows, blasting the evil Bellatrix Lestrange with a curse and a “NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!”

Cordelia Naismith
The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold
Most of Bujold’s fantastic space opera saga follows Miles Vorkosigan through a series of interstellar intrigues and epic battles. But the first two books focus on Miles’ mother, Cordelia, who kicks up controversy everywhere she goes—such as when she marries into the highly-militaristic, archaic Barrayaran society. While pregnant with Miles, Cordelia barely survives an assassination attempt that leaves her unborn son’s life in jeopardy. Cordelia not only saves him but enacts revenge in a truly spectacular way. Let’s just say it involves a severed head.

Hester Prynne
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Marked as an adulteress, Hester Prynne is left to raise her young daughter under truly trying circumstances. But she doesn’t let either herself or her child get beaten down by the judgmental townspeople. She names her daughter Pearl, marking her as precious instead of sinful, and thanks to Hester’s care, Pearl finally gets to achieve the happiness and freedom that her mother and babydaddy Dimmesdale were denied.

We must also give nods of maternal respect to the resourceful Caroline Ingalls from the Little House books, the noble Bessie Glass from J.D. Salinger‘s short stories, the eponymous mater from John Van Druten‘s I Remember Mama, and the mama duck from Make Way For Ducklings. Please feel free to add to the list: who are your favorite awesome literary moms?

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Awesome Moms in Literature

  1. Suzy

    I love Katie from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Yes, she was absolutely flawed and somehow liked Neeley better than Francie, but she was amazingly strong and honest. I can’t imagine raising two kids on almost no money, and doing it so very well.

  2. Julie

    Lovely piece–and I’m so glad you mentioned Bessie Glass: in the course of one conversation, sitting on a toilet, chain-smoking, and talking to her imperially bathing son, she is revealed as an undeniably tragic but endlessly resourceful embodiment of the maternal spirit. A far cry from Marmee!

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